Back in high school, I had two favorite subjects: physics and English. Some friends thought it an odd combination, but to me it made perfect sense. They seemed to be two sides of the same coin. Physics took the chaos of the world and reduced it to a few elegant rules, at least before we learned about the uncertainty principle. And English took the building blocks of the alphabet and created a whole universe of nuance and color.
The lessons about gravity in particular captured my imagination. My physics teacher -- a kindly, bespectacled old man -- told us how we are constantly being accelerated by gravity, even when we stand stock-still. We are all forever accelerating towards the center of the world. Only the soles of our feet pressing on the skin of the Earth stop us from disappearing into it altogether, falling into a twisting writhing mass at its core.
I think about that a lot. This year has been a time of great change for me. I got married in January, in a religious ceremony in my old country -- India. I walked around the sacred fire, and listened as the priest chanted verses in a language I could not understand, going through rituals that hinted at a meaning I could not quite discern. All I felt was a tremendous uncertainty, an unanswered question. Now my wife is pregnant with our first child, which brings still more questions. Do I have it in me to be a good husband? A good father? The questions multiply, but there are no simple, elegant answers forthcoming. The laws of physics don't cover fatherhood.
All around me too, uncertainty looms large. Americans are less sanguine about their future than ever before, and there is a collective yearning for a simpler time. But any time I feel like giving in to nostalgia, the voice of my old physics teacher whispers in my ear. Remember, it tells me; things never were as good as they once were. We're always accelerating, even when we stand our ground.
Even when we sit absolutely silent and still, we are dancing.